November 13, 2017

NAZI, NOT FASCIST:

Was Vichy France a Puppet Government or a Willing Nazi Collaborator? : The authoritarian government led by Marshal Pétain participated in Jewish expulsions and turned France into a quasi-police state (Lorraine Boissoneault, 11/09/17, SMITHSONIAN.COM )

Did the regime collaborate with Nazis out of self-preservation, or did it have its own agenda? 

The misconception that the Vichy Regime was the lesser of two evils endured only for the first few decades after the war. Since then, as more archival material has come to light, historians have gradually come to see the collaborators as willing participants in the Holocaust. Before the Nazis ever demanded the Vichy government participate in anti-Semitic policies, the French had enacted policies that removed Jews from civil service and began seizing Jewish property. "The Vichy French government participated willingly in the deportations and did most of the arresting," Paxton says. "The arrests of foreign Jews often involved separating families from their children, sometimes in broad daylight, and it had a very powerful effect on public opinion and began to turn opinion against Pétain."

One particularly notable roundup was July 1942's Vel d'Hiv, the largest deportation of Jews from France that would occur during the war. Among the 13,000 Jews arrested and deported to Auschwitz were 4,000 children--removed with their parents for "humanitarian" reasons, according to French Prime Minister Pierre Laval. If they stayed behind, he reasoned, who would care for them? All told, the Vichy regime helped deport 75,721 Jewish refugees and French citizens to death camps, according to the BBC.

Did the French public support the Vichy leaders?

It's a complicated question, since the Vichy government was in power for four years. As Michael Curtis writes in Verdict on Vichy: Power and Prejudice in the Vichy France Regime, "The Vichy regime seemed to have early popular support, while the Resistance was at first limited. If there had been a public referendum, the French people, in a state of confusion after the military defeat, concerned with material interests, and distressed by the German occupation of the north of the country, might well have approved of Vichy. At one extreme there was great brutality, especially by the violently anti-Semitic paramilitary Milice, while on the hand the number of protestors and heroic resistors against Vichy and the Nazis grew larger throughout the war."

Paxton agrees that support waned over the course of the German occupation, but also points out the public overwhelmingly supported Pétain's regime at the start. And while the Resistance began early on in the start of the war, "resisters were always a minority," writes Robert Gildea in Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance. 

Posted by at November 13, 2017 4:41 AM

  

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